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August 6, 2009

Linwood Barclay on The Hook

I’m always looking for The Hook.
(Not “The Hook” by the late, great Donald E. Westlake; but if you
haven’t read it, you MUST.)

Before I start writing a book, I need a way in. Something to grab not
just the reader, but myself. I think of it as the hook. Or maybe a
“what if.” I have a literary agent who’s very big on finding the right
hook, an idea that you can sell in a sentence or two. Something like:
“Shark terrorizes beach.” Which, by the way, I think would make a
terrific book. Somebody should write that.

The thing is, it’s tricky coming up with a story that hasn’t been told
before. Everything, they say, has been done. There’s a lot of truth to
that. But I think what keeps writers going is they think, “Okay, it’s
been done before, but it hasn’t been done by ME.”

My hope is, with the right hook, I can find a way to tell a story in a
new and different way

I really started thinking about hooks when I wrote No Time for
Goodbye, the first of my novels to find a wide audience. (It was the
#1 bestselling novel in the UK last year.) The idea behind that book
was this: A 14-year-old girl wakes up one morning to find the rest of
her family gone. Sometime in the night, her father, her mother and her
brother go missing. And more than two decades go by before she has any
inkling of what happened to them.

That hook worked for me.

Then came Too Close to Home. I was thinking about terrible stories in
the news where an entire family is murdered. The hook for me was
double-barreled. First, what’s it like to live in the house next door?
Are you, in a bizarre way, safer than you’ve ever been? It’d be like
lightning hitting twice for this to happen in two houses side by side.
But then comes the second half: What if you were to find out the
killers went to the wrong house?

That hook worked for me, too.

Now we come to my new book, Fear the Worst. At first glance, it’s a
simple enough story. A missing daughter. I’m pretty sure that’s been
done before.

So I needed a new way into the story. And I had some help from my own
daughter, Paige.

I was getting ready to give her a lift to work one morning when she
still lived at home with us, and I was asking her if she had any good
ideas for a book. Something rooted in the every-day.

“How about,” she said, “if you came to pick me up at work and I wasn’t

That got us talking, and I’m not sure whether it was Paige or me who
said, “What if you’d NEVER been there?”

Now I had a hook. Your daughter’s been going to her summer job for a
couple of weeks. One night she doesn’t come home, so you make your
first visit to her place of employment to see what might have happened
to her. No one knows who you’re talking about. They’ve never seen your

So where’s she been going for the last two weeks? And where is she
now? And who are these very bad people who are trying to find her
before you do?

Fear the Worst was born.
And as I write this, its publication date is five days away.
I hope people have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
I hope they’re hooked.

Comments (1) | Permalink    


August 12, 2009 18:26
Posted by: Linda Bandow

You sure have ME hooked.....I read No Time for Goodbye and like it....recommended it to several friends. Can't wait to see what happens nest....did the guy take off with the demo truck?